Republicans called out an anti-trafficking activist during Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation hearing.
Operation Underground Railroad is a non-profit anti-child trafficking organization with a history of scandals.
The announcement came after Josh Hawley accused Jackson of being soft on child predators.
A senior official from the controversial anti-child-trafficking organization Operation Underground Railroad will testify before the Republican panel during Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing on Thursday. The non-profit group has gained an international following online over the past decade, but has been the subject of numerous scandals and is currently under investigation into its operations.
The official assigned to testify, Alessandra Serano, is the legal director of the Underground Railroad (OUR) operation. The Senate Judiciary Committee’s announcement came after a hot day of questioning on Tuesday in which Republican Sen. Josh Hawley falsely accused Jackson of imposing lenient sentences in child sex abuse cases.
Deputy White House Press Secretary Andrew Bates accused Hawley of using a “QAnon signaling smear” after his interrogation, while Jackson’s lenient Republican narrative against pedophilia has become a rallying cry for QAnon conspirators. Republicans inviting Serano to testify appear to be doubling down on that line of attack, with experts saying it is likely to further embolden far-right conspiracies.
“The online QAnon communities have already taken a liking, in general, to this hyper-focus on Jackson’s record of convicting child pornography cases, and really run with it,” said Jared Holt, resident researcher at Digital Forensics. Atlantic Council Research Lab. Initiated.
Bringing OUR to the confirmation hearing risks further inflaming or at least offering validation for these QAnon conspiracies, Holt said.
OUR faces a number of controversies and is under investigation
OUR has a long history of controversy. The Utah Davis County District Attorney’s Office is currently investigating OUR for a number of potential offenses, including embezzlement, operators possibly being intoxicated while on assignments, and whether its members have ” engaged in sexual acts with victims of human trafficking,” according to a Vice News report published in June 2021, citing a source with knowledge of the investigation.
The organization was founded in Utah in 2013 by Tim Ballard, a former US Department of Homeland Security officer who in 2019 was appointed by former President Donald Trump to an advisory board of the White House to end human trafficking. The group lists 30 team members on its website and is popular on social media with over 900,000 followers on Facebook and nearly 50,000 on Twitter. The most recent annual report on OUR’s website indicates that the organization solicited over $50 million in donations in 2020. In 2019, OUR reported receiving over $30 million.
People with ties to the group have also had ties to QAnon, the baseless conspiracy theory network that casts Trump as a crusading savior against a global cabal of Deep State human traffickers.
At a “Health and Freedom” conference in June 2021, actor Jim Caviezel shared QAnon’s conspiracies while promoting a biopic where he played OUR Founder Ballard as a hero saving children around the world , reported Vice. Caviezel has publicly claimed that traffickers harvest the chemical adrenochrome from children, a common myth in the conspiracy movement.
Caviezel had attended the conference, which included speakers like conspiracy theorist and QAnon influencer Lin Wood, to promote the film and said Ballard couldn’t be there because he was too busy “getting kids out of corners.” darkest hell,” according to Vice.
Although OUR denied any affiliation with QAnon or other conspiracy theory groups in a statement to Vice, Ballard told The New York Times in August 2020 that some Internet conspiracy theories about child trafficking “have allowed people to open their eyes”.
OUR did not respond to a request for comment at the time of publication.
QAnon supporters seize on child abuse questions in Jackson confirmation
The Republican focus on Jackson’s conviction record in child abuse cases and issues around trafficking has fueled QAnon supporters. Many figures in the conspiratorial movement have taken up the subject and incorporated Jackson into their false narratives and myths.
Ron Watkins, a prominent QAnon conspirator who recently qualified for the ballot to run for a congressional seat from Arizona, called Jackson a “pedophile facilitator” and said any senator “who votes to confirm his nomination is also a pedophile catalyst” to his Telegram audience. more than 367,000 users on Wednesday. Several users commented on violent remarks about Jackson on the post, as well as referenced George Soros – a frequent figure in QAnon and other anti-Semitic conspiracy movements.
Conspiracy theorist Liz Crokin, who has more than 90,000 Telegram followers, has also written several articles baselessly accusing Jackson of being soft on pedophiles. Along with Watkins and Crokin, Holt said he noticed “some of the most conspiratorial election truth channels of 2020” have also started spreading baseless theories on Telegram. While Republicans haven’t outright accused Jackson of supporting child molestation or directly mentioned QAnon, Holt said those questions are a good enough dog whistle for conspiracy theorists to fill in the gaps.
“Republicans who keep talking about it and invoking it don’t have to go all the way,” Holt said. “These communities will often do it for them.”
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